Confessions of a Scambaiter, Part II
Scambaiting is the action of conversing with a scammer for a prolonged period of time so as to distract him/her from further scamming. In this article, I also attempt to obtain the scam website.
Part II: "Xudong"
By September, I was very much convinced that scammer slaves do not exist, despite the whispers which ebbed and flowed through the victim group chat. If I believed my own scammer to be a slave, I was kidding myself, drawing sympathy for an evil person who deserved none. He played me and he knew it and he probably reveled in it. And I had met three scammers in Dubai by then who were voluntary perpetrators (see Part I). They saw nothing of the like regarding slavery. By contrast, they led relatively happy lives.
However, no scammer was also like my original scammer either -- a person who waited 10 days before sharing the website of the trading platform, speaking with me for hours on the days preceding. That is, no one was like my scammer until I met Xudong.
Xudong's "package" defined him as a rich entrepreneur in the import/export business in Toronto. I found him very annoying in the beginning, because whenever I asked him about his day, it would involved one of the following: sports car racing, horse racing, or golf. Despite knowing the typical scammer charade, I couldn't help but feel annoyed at the constant bragging. At one point, my patience reactor had a meltdown and I lectured him.
"I don't want to hear about your rich life. That's bragging," I said.
"I'm just telling about my real life," he would say, "That's not bragging. Do you want me to lie about it?"
"Yes," I said in exasperation. "Lie to me and tell you're from the poor countryside. I'd much rather hear about that."
"Okay," he said with a little disbelief, "I will lie and tell you my life was very hard and I don't eat good food everyday."
"That's better," I said bitterly, hoping this was the last day I'd chat with Xudong.
A video of Xudong's hand and a puppy. The same soft Sichuan accent became familiar to me after many phone conversations.
It was not. Our chat continued for nine days. In order to ease the boredom, I’d asked him very personal questions about what he wanted from his life. He told me he wanted to make more money. I shook that off.
"You always want material things," I complained, "You should focus on making the world a better place. You should strive to become an example that your future children will look up to."
Somehow that resonated with him and for once he did not argue with me. "That’s a good statement," was all he mustered. I moved on to the next question.
As the nine days of speaking progressed, Xudong became ever more concerned with where I was and when I’d come back home. He wanted to speak with me at work and if I didn’t talk for a while, he would ask if I was meeting other men. Many times during our conversations, I would feed him a baited hook to speak about his crypto exchange, but he would pass the opportunity, instead stating that his "rich uncle," with whom he had been consulting about crypto trading, was too busy to be bothered about it yet. At the time, I began to think he was at the professional level of my own scammer, cultivating deep relationships with victims for over a week before "butchering." The other victims in the victim group chat told me I was extremely patient to wait so long for his website link.
By day 9, Xudong wanted to marry me and introduce me to his rich uncle. By this time, I had become acquainted with his soft Sichuan accent, heard about his hopes and dreams, and seen him talk to a puppy. I was waiting for the moment of truth.
Then he dropped the bomb: "Once we get married, I'll let you control the E-Mini account," he said.
My heart jumped. "What is the E-Mini account?" I asked, tail wagging.
Xudong began to reveal that he had been keeping his crypto trading portfolio within a website called E-Mini and I breathed a sigh of relief. After nine days, this was rewarding. I waited until he gave me the fraudulent website, then struck.
"You're very good," I admitted, "It's very believable. But now it's time for me to go."
"I don’t know what you mean?" He said.
"We're in the same business," I tried to say. "Goodbye."
He was taken aback. I told him I wasn't going to invest but that he is very professional and wished him good luck in the future.
"Fine, don't invest. We can just talk about feelings," he said. I thought he was crazy.
"Didn't you hear me? I told you I'm not going to invest," I said. "I was scammed before from an app called LCTP and I lost $32,000."
Xudong refused to give up. He was convinced he had fallen in love, regardless of whether or not I wanted to invest, while I sat frozen, utterly confused. We argued back and forth about his actual whereabouts when he finally revealed the truth.
"I was tricked here by my hometown friend," he said. I gasped. Yes, he had met the friend in a previous job, and while seeking employment, the "friend" suggested traveling to Myanmar for a relatively high-paying job. Once Xudong arrived, he was sold to a company while the friend pocketed a trafficking bonus. Xudong's freedom would require a payout of 100,000 yuan, the equivalent of nearly $17,000.
Xudong confesses he was tricked. At the time, he said he was in Malaysia, but later revealed he was actually in Myanmar.
"We are crowded in a room with many people," he wrote, with a sudden, inconspicuous air of desperation and urgency. "They beat us, and because I haven’t shown good performance, they don’t feed me sometimes."
"It is true, I am from Chengdu, and I have an older sister," he said. "Before I left, my father was diagnosed with cancer. When I first arrived, I told them I was in Myanmar, but I didn’t tell them what I'm doing because I didn’t want to worry them. I knew they could not afford my payout because of my father's treatments. There must be some way you can contact them for me…"
"Of course," I said. "If you give me their WeChat ID I would be happy to message them."
"...but I can’t remember their ID anymore. My phone was taken from me long ago."
The next few days, Xudong was very careful. He hardly replied to messages out of fear of being beaten, and preferred I message him only when he messaged me. Later, one of his phones was confiscated again. I told him to memorize my WeChat ID in case something happened to him. For a week, I repeated the ID before he deleted our chat for the day. He felt relief that I didn’t invest and said he was going to find a way out somehow. He didn’t ask for money, only that I wait for him to return to China so he could marry me. But he would also issue a warning: "If you don’t hear from me for more than three days, don’t wait for me."
One day several weeks later, he disappeared for a week. Out of fear that he may have died, I messaged his coworker, who had taken over Xudong's old number.
"Xudong was sold last week," the coworker replied. "He told me that if an American girl ever came looking for him, let her know that he remembered her WeChat."
"Thank you," I said.
"Don’t message me," the coworker replied crossly. "I don't want to be pathetic like him."
The rainy October days eventually passed and nearly all of November and I thought I may never hear from Xudong ever again. I was in the library on November 24 when a WeChat friend request appeared from a user named "maple leaf." It was Xudong.
"Baby, I'm alive," Xudong said. "I'm doing okay, but I cannot talk much. Don't send me a message unless I message you first. I'm so afraid someone will use this phone and see you. Wait for me to get out of this hell. When I return I will definitely come to America to find you."
Radio silence again for another month, and then for the last time, right before Christmas, a desperate WeChat message.
"Baby, help me. I'm going to die here."
"Do you have $10,000? Can you send me money. I'm afraid if I don't pay it, they will kill me."
One of the last videos Xudong shared, trapped in a room with bullet casings on the ground
"Calm down baby. Tell me what's going on."
"They locked me in a room. They won't let me scam anyone anymore. They told me to pay up because I haven't been able to scam anyone. Please send me some money. I’m afraid I will die here."
A video of a room smaller than a closet flashed in the chat room. A glossy wooden door, the hazy reflection of a skinny man in a chair panning a camera, and a few shiny brass bullets on white tiled floor were all I could see. In his written voice, desperation and panic. His current captors wanted him to call his family back in China to ask for ransom, which was why he had a smartphone. However, he forgot the WeChat info of his parents and contacted the only two accounts he memorized, me and a hometown friend.
For the next two days, Xudong begged me to send money to a crypto address. Later on he admitted that any money from me an American wouldn't guarantee his release, because the company would consider it as theirs, and only money from his family would count as "compensation" for the company acquiring and housing him. But he thought he could try to pass of money from me as coming from his family.
Unfortunately, as a college student myself, I didn't have $10,000 to spare, and as a former victim and GASO member, I am ethically barred from such actions. However, unspeakable guilt and anguish drenched my soul. He could not contact his family, which meant his only hope was one hometown friend he had found on Chinese Tiktok and me. Would he die because of me? I asked him for his real name, a photo of him and his location, but he feared leaking this information would only kill him sooner. After a nudge, he sent a location ping in Myanmar. Unreachable. I urged him to contact Chinese police, but he feared a long prison sentence. I consulted GASO, but nothing could be done. We don't have contacts in Myanmar to help. He was on his own. He sent one more video, this time in a room so small that he had to sleep standing. There was nothing I could do.
Since then, Xudong's boss released him to scam again, although the conditions for this are unknown. We don’t speak, and I don't know if it's because he felt I had let him down or because he is scared to death of repercussions. From that day forth, I never doubted again that human trafficking for scams is real and that innocent people do suffer from it.